Peacebuilding in CAR: how the AU can be more effective


In February, Faustin-Archange Touadéra was elected president of the Central African Republic (CAR), ending a three-year-long transition in the country. This has given CAR a new opportunity to achieve and sustain peace by addressing the complex array of political, economic and social causes of the conflict.

International organisations have been active in supporting CAR’s transition in recent years, but with limited results. One of these organisations, the African Union (AU), is now evaluating ways to be more effective. In particular, the AU is looking for better ways to address the long-term drivers of conflicts – in CAR, but also elsewhere – through its post-conflict reconstruction and development (PCRD) framework.

A new policy brief released by the Institute for Security Studies (ISS) finds that the AU has particular comparative advantages in the country, but requires clarity and consistency on the roles that it can play.

The AU’s political office in CAR was established in 2014 with an ambitious mandate. It focuses mostly on enhancing political dialogue and reconciliation and supporting the PCRD process through the AU Mission for the CAR and Central Africa (MISAC).

The needs assessment mission can be an important turning point for the AU in CAR

The AU has been present in CAR for even longer. The AU International Support Mission to the Central African Republic (MISCA) was originally a peace support operation deployed in the aftermath of the 2013 crisis. The AU took over from several regional mechanisms that had been deployed in the country since the early 2000s; in particular the Economic Community of Central African States (ECCAS) Peace Consolidation Mission in the Central African Republic (MICOPAX), which had been in the country since 2008.

However, after a rapid deterioration of the conflict, the United Nations (UN) took over from MISCA and deployed more than 13 000 personnel in CAR through the UN Multidimensional Integrated Stabilisation mission in the CAR (MINUSCA). CAR also remains one of the focal countries within the UN peacebuilding architecture.

As part of this transformation, the AU reformed its mission into a political office that could enable it to support ongoing national efforts through close coordination with regional organisations and the UN. However, since the deployment of the UN peacekeeping mission, MINUSCA, the AU has had a less visible and smaller role in the country. This has curbed its capacity to implement expected roles and functions.

The ISS study examined how the role of the AU can be enhanced for the organisation to better support CAR’s peacebuilding and PCRD processes, and ultimately its efforts in achieving sustainable peace. The AU draws on its PCRD policy framework to devise suitable peacebuilding strategies. The current role of MISAC should be viewed within this context.

Since its adoption at a continental level 10 years ago, the implementation of the AU PCRD framework has been lagging behind and needs further support. The ISS study found that CAR presents a critical opportunity for the AU’s overall engagement in peace and security. It is a particularly crucial time for the AU to enhance the implementation of its PCRD approaches.

The challenges faced by the AU in ensuring sustainable peace are not unique

The MISAC peacebuilding efforts have been varied since its deployment, and the AU has played a role both as a convener and an implementer of peacebuilding responses. The variety of responses within its small footprint shows that implementing specific activities is not enough to achieve sustainable peace. It is critical that the AU provides more targeted and continued support to prioritisation of national responses and planning processes.

For example, in 2015, the AU played an important role in the Bangui Forum on National Reconciliation – a process aimed at bringing together different sectors of society to identify a common vision for the country’s future. This would be achieved through nationally owned solutions and priorities.

Implementing the conclusions reached in the final document of the Forum lost momentum after its adoption, however, and little has been done since – whether by the AU or other peacebuilding actors in the country.

The AU Commission (AUC) planned to renew its peacebuilding efforts this year, for example through assessment missions – including one to CAR. The AU is also in the process of developing an interdepartmental taskforce to provide more coordinated efforts from the AUC on PCRD matters.

From 7-12 August 2016, the AU is conducting a post-conflict needs assessment mission in the country. The mission is expected to support the development of a comprehensive action plan, particularly by means of increasing collaboration with national government, regional and international partners, and avoiding duplication of responses.

The needs assessment mission can be an important turning point for the AU in CAR. The mission can provide realistic and pragmatic options for responses based on critical analysis. This process should not only identify priorities for the country, but also further assess the AU’s ability to achieve expected results. The AU would, in this way, be able to better evaluate how its frameworks relate to the country’s priorities and needs.

How can the AU complement the mammoth role played by the UN?

The revitalisation of AU’s PCRD framework also provides momentum for the AU to identify in which areas it can best engage. The ISS study found that the AU’s ability to convene and mobilise voices and actions from other African countries is a particularly powerful advantage; and one that could be better utilised on the ground. An important way for the AU to further engage relates to sharing experiences. An example would be through conducting study tours that enable peacebuilding actors to further identify potential avenues for more effective responses.

Many difficult questions remain, and need to be addressed by the AU if it is to be more effective. A salient one is how the AU engages with regional economic communities; and in the CAR’s case, specifically with ECCAS. While both organisations play an important role, coordination between them has at best been fragmented and less systematic. It is therefore critical that the AU defines coordination engagements with ECCAS more clearly.

It is important to mention that the challenges faced by the AU in ensuring sustainable peace are not unique. The UN itself acknowledges that it has not been very effective in preventing conflicts and sustaining peace, as mentioned in the UN peacebuilding review. The review states that peacebuilding, globally, remains underprioritised, underresourced and undertaken only when the guns falls silent.

How and where should one start in a country where, arguably, everything is a priority? Can the AU play a positive role in this regard? How can it complement the mammoth role played by the UN and bilateral donors?

With the new government in place, the AU should create a space to support national stakeholders in making their own decisions and plans, while clearly identifying and drawing on its comparative advantages. These efforts should further be advanced through the legitimacy that the AU enjoys to engage with the government of the CAR on complicated political issues.

Gustavo de Carvalho and Amanda Lucey, Senior Researchers, Peace Operations and Peacebuilding Division, ISS Pretoria

Picture: ©Gustavo de Carvalho/ISS

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